estate planning

Make a Will Week: A Step-By-Step Guide

If you've put off making your will, you're not alone - two-thirds of BC parents with children under the age of 18 don't have a will. Unfortunately, not having a will can make things more complicated for the family and friends you leave behind, and could mean that your estate isn't distributed according to your wishes.

Some people postpone making a will because the process seems complicated or difficult. If you're in that situation, I have good news: making a will is easy! In our third article for our Make a Will Week series, we'll demystify the process of making a will.

Step 1: Ask for Help!

When dealing with any legal issue, it's a good idea to consult an expert. While you can buy kits to make a will yourself, unless you speak to a legal professional there's always a risk that a DIY will could cause complications for your family after you pass away. Especially if you have minor children or complicated assets, it's important to get legal advice when making a will.

Many lawyers (including our lawyers at McBOP!) are able to do simple wills for a set fee, so you know what you'll be paying from the very beginning. For more complicated wills, it may make more sense for your lawyer to bill at an hourly rate. If you're interested in making a will, consider contacting us. Once we have an idea of your needs, we can give you an assessment of what your will is likely to cost.

Step 2: What's in Your Estate?

The next step in making an estate plan is to figure out what assets you own. This means thinking about big assets, like real estate and investments, as well as any small but meaningful assets that you want to make plans for, like jewelry or collectibles you'd like to gift to someone specific. 

You'll also want to plan for how to pay for your debts. Your debts will be paid from your estate before inheritances are distributed to beneficiaries, and will affect how much your beneficiaries will inherit when you pass away. 

Making a list of your assets and debts before your first meeting with a lawyer will be a big time-saver, and will help give your lawyer information they need to provide you with tailored legal advice.

Step 3: Pick an Executor

One of the big decisions to make in your will is deciding who will act as your executor. Your executor is responsible for getting your assets in order, arranging to pay any debts you still owe when you pass away, and distributing your estate to your beneficiaries according to the instructions in your will.

When choosing an executor, it's a good idea to name a responsible person who lives nearby - it will be easier for them to deal with your assets if they can visit your bank branch or meet with your investment adviser in person. If you don't want to name any family members or friends as your executor, let your lawyer know - many estate lawyers are willing to act as executors for a fee.

It's also a good idea to name alternate executors, in case your first choice isn't able to act for you. Try to think of two or three people who could act as your executor.

Step 4: Pick your Beneficiaries

For many people, the most important thing you will do in your will is give instructions about who you would like to inherit your estate. This is the step where you can decide what kind of legacy you'd like to leave behind.

The Wills, Estates and Succession Act in BC puts an obligation on anyone making a will to "make adequate provision" for their spouse and children. As a result, it's important to make sure you give your lawyer detailed information about your family. If you would prefer not to name your spouse or one of your children as a beneficiary in your will, it's extremely important to get legal advice on the potential consequences of that decision.

While it can be difficult to think about, it's also important to think about naming "just in case" beneficiaries. Sadly, sometimes the people you would like to inherit your estate may pass away before you do. In that case, naming an alternate beneficiary in your will is a good way to ensure your wishes will still be respected.

Remember that you can name charitable organizations as beneficiaries in your will! Making a charitable bequest in your will is a great way to support causes you care about and give back to your community. 

Step 5: Pick a Guardian for Minor Children

If you have young children, it may be a good idea to name a guardian for them in your will. This is a sensitive decision, so if you have questions about naming a guardian for children make sure to talk to your lawyer.

Step 6: Approve the Draft and Sign It

Your lawyer will send you a draft version of your will to review, or may set up a meeting to review the draft in person. Read it through carefully, and make sure to let your lawyer if you have any questions or would like to make any changes. 

Once you're happy with the final draft, you'll have to come in for one last meeting to sign your will in front of two witnesses. Then you're done!

All in all, making a will usually only requires two meetings - one to let your lawyer know what you want in your will, and one to sign it once you've approved a final draft. Our lawyers and staff will do their best to make the process as easy as possible, so you can have peace of mind knowing you've got a plan in place for the future.

If you're interested in making or updating your will, please get in touch! Our estate planning lawyers are happy to answer your questions and set up an appointment at a time that works for you.

Make a Will Week: Charitable Bequests

Charitable giving is a well-established Canadian tradition, one that contributes to the well-being of our country, our communities, and our neighbours. However, according to a recent editorial in Maclean's by Governor General David Johnston, overall charitable contributions by Canadians are going down, while older Canadians are becoming responsible for a bigger and bigger proportion of all Canadian charitable gifts.

This isn't because younger Canadians don't want to give back. In fact, more millennials feel they should increase their support for charities than any other age group in Canada. However, millennials also give less than other age groups - partly because they have less money than other age groups, and partly because they struggle to find the most effective way to make a difference with their gifts.

One way to support charities that often goes overlooked is through planning your estate. At its best, estate planning allows you to plan the kind of legacy you want to leave behind - both for your family and for your community.

Making a Charitable Bequest

Since it's Make a Will week, now is a great time to talk about charitable bequests. Charitable bequests are gifts to a charity (or several charities) that are set out in your will and paid from your estate after you pass away. You can specify a particular amount that you want to give, or - if you're concerned that the value of your estate may change as you get older - you can give a certain fraction of your estate to charity.

Many people worry about providing adequately for their families when making a will. That's a reasonable concern - the Wills, Estates and Succession Act in BC requires a will-maker to "make adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of the will-maker's spouse or children" in their will.

However, there are lots of ways to make a will that will allow you to ensure that your family is provided for while still giving you the opportunity to leave a legacy in your community. If making a charitable bequest in your will is a priority for you, make sure to let your lawyer know when they are helping you make your will.

Other Ways to Give

Depending on how your estate is structured, there can be many other ways to give. For instance, you can choose to name a charity as a beneficiary on a new or existing life insurance policy, which can allow you to leave a significant legacy by making small premium payments over time.

For very large gifts, some charities can help you set up charitable remainder trusts, which will continue to generate income for the charity well into the future. Some charities can also accept gifts of valuable property, like real estate, and use them in carrying out their charitable missions.

If charitable giving is a priority for you in planning your estate, our lawyers can help walk you through options that will work best for you. To set an appointment to make or update your will, contact us!

It's Make a Will Week in BC!

April 8 to 14, 2018 is Make a Will week in British Columbia! If you're one of the 45% of BC residents who don't have a valid will, consider setting an appointment this week to make a new will or update an old will.

Making a will is the best way to ensure that your wishes will be respected after you're gone, and will help you avoid the kinds of conflicts that can lead to estate litigation. Unfortunately, as CTV News reported last year, inheritance disputes are on the rise in BC. In that feature, CTV spoke to our senior partner Michael Mark about planning to avoid common conflicts that can lead to estate litigation.

Making a will also gives you the chance to give back to your community by making bequests to charities that are meaningful to you. Our lawyers can help you to plan charitable gifts in your will so that they're as effective as possible for the causes you care about. To learn more about the benefits of planned giving, check out this article from the Canadian Association of Gift Planners.

If you're interested in making or updating a will, please contact us! Our lawyers are happy to help build an estate plan that works for you.